There is a tiny little town in western Texas, named Iraan. The town sprang into existence after the 1923 discovery of oil on the ranch of Ira Yates (the town is named after Ira and his wife Ann), with the Yates Field becoming one of the most prolific oil fields in North America, with some of the individual early wells producing 8500 barrels (1355 cubic meters) per day. The field itself has producer over a billion barrels in the past 90 years, and still has over 50% of the original oil in place. Current production is over 20,000 barrels per day. The little town has about 1400 residents, and most of them either work directly for an oil company, a service company, or support those that do.
When I lived in the West Texas area, I often heard that the artist who wrote and drew the Alley Oop comic was from Iraan. Since I knew I’d be there on business this week, I did a bit of research. (My apologies to comic strip buffs for anything I might be wrong – I found conflicting information!)
V. T. Hamlin was born in Iowa, not Iraan, but he worked as a cartographer for an oil industry magazine published in Fort Worth. As part of his job, he spent a year in the Iraan area. The Yates field is situated in the middle of the Permian Basin, a vast area that was part of a vast sea during the Permian (duh) Period ending 250+ million years ago, when the supercontinent Pangaea still exist, and is composed of the compressed sediment of millions of years, capped off by deep layers of the salts and minerals left when the sea withdrew. This ancient seabed is not only the source of the oil, the layered hills and canyons are a rich source of fossils. V. T. Hamlin spent some of his time exploring these fossils beds, which added to his interest of prehistoric ‘cave man’ times. As reported in a fan club newsletter:
Hamlin’s interest in geology and paleontology was sparked while working as a photographer and artist for different oil companies in Texas, where fossils were an essential part of the business. He was almost entirely self-taught in these areas, from reading books checked out of the library. Hamlin’s passion for natural history led him to study human history as well.
The comic strip, published since 1933, is now on its third artist. Although it’s been carried by as many as 800 newspapers, I never read the comic myself. However, I knew that there were some icons to Hamlin in the town of Iraan. So, I made a trip to the Alley Oop Theme Park, so you don’t have to! You’re welcome.
After flying into the Iraan “airport” (cough), we were picked up by our business association. After our meetings, I asked him to drive by the park. I spent entire minutes exploring the park and snapping these pictures. No sacrifice is too great for you, my reader!
- Permian Basin: Running Faster Than Ever at 90 (fool.com)
- Texas on track to be among world’s largest oil producers (fuelfix.com)
- Stone Age Tales of Alley Oop